Long, long ago

I was telling my three-year old about how, when Daddy was her age, there were no cordless phones, or computers, or the Internet, or even (I pulled an astonished face) Google!

She looked at me quizzically and asked "but how did you find out things you didn't know?"

I thought for a second, and told her that you were able to go to a library, and then look try and up things in books. And even though you might have to look in several books to find the answer, you could probably get one. It was just that it was harder and slower.

She offered: "And it was sad. Without Google."

Theresa's Dad

We all went along to Theresa's fathers funeral yesterday - it was a big event, with about 350 people there including politicians from NZ and the Cook Islands. Lots of friends and family. I did the AV content including slideshows and excerpts from things like the parliamentary tribute. Lots of scanning of old photos. Then I dropped it all in iDVD, which seemed almost perfect for what I was trying to make. It all seemed to go well, and Theresa's mother was very appreciative - even though it was the least I could do under the circumstances.

So a birth and a death within a few weeks of each other. At least Brian got to see Alexandra before he went.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.


Oh, and happy birthday to me!

(And I'm not 33, but I had no song called thirty-nine in my iTunes collection. Mmmm, it is a good song though.)
  • Current Music
    Thirty-Three - The Smashing Pumpkins

Back in Raro

I'm back in Rarotonga on holiday again - since meeting Theresa, I've been here number of times, and I imagine I'll be back here a number of times more in the future. It's truly a wonderful place.

And the accommodation keeps getting better and better too. The overwater bungalows for our honeymoon were stunning, and on a later trip when Kathy and Tony put us up for free at their amazing house in the hills I thought it was about as good as it was going to get, but then, then, this time, we get to stay at the NZ High Commissioners residence! Because, if I hadn't mentioned it before, Theresa's daddy is now the High Commissioner to the Cook Islands.

And there's even broadband on the island now - with enough bandwidth for Skype. Web browsing is a bit sluggish though - I'm not sure, but it feels like a satellite link, as the latency to start a transfer is really long. Ping times are around a second for example. But once you've got a connection up and running, data flows quite quickly (well, quickly for the islands anyway).

Catherine is enjoying it here - she loves the beach, and will spend hours just poodling about in the sand and the sea. So everyone is having a great time!

Burning DVDs

It's only recently that I've actually had a machine that can write DVDs (my 7 month old iMac).

I tried to write a DVD once a few months ago, but it didn't play in my actual DVD player. I'd just naïvely used Disk Utility to create a disc image that I then burned. I didn't know what had failed, and I didn't really have the time to find work it out at the time.

But I've just got my hand on the contents of Godfrey Reggio's IRE release of Koyaanisqatsi. I already had the MGM release, but I recently found a webpage that showed the difference between the IRE and MGM releases: http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/DVDCompare2/koyaanisqatsi.htm. When I first got the MGM edition, I remember being slightly disappointed by the quality and softness of the transfer, but back then I had no idea how much better the IRE release was. Or even that the original was actually 4:3 and not widescreen.

And now I wanted to burn it to a DVD, and play it on my DVD player through the projector.

So it was back to working how to make a valid DVD image on my Mac. And, on some level, I objected to paying money for some software to do it when I should be able to work out how to do it for free.

To cut a long and frustrating story short (including several burnt DVDs that would play on the computer, but not on the DVD player, or PS3), I eventually found a post from an Apple guy that states that the built-in image creation/manipulation tool on the Mac, hdiutil, is incapable of creating compliant DVD Video discs (disregard the other guy in the conversation that repeatedly ignores what he is being told).

That made my task easier - as I could ditch plan A for plan B, safe in the knowledge that hdiutil was not capable of producing what I wanted. And Plan B was also satisfying, as it was the old and always reliable tool, mkisofs.

I downloaded the latest cdrecord source, typed "make", and a few minutes later had a static mkisofs binary.

Then, after changing into the directory that had the VIDEO_TS folder (and creating an AUDIO_TS folder, just to be safe) I issued the following command:

mkisofs -dvd-video -udf -o ~/Desktop/dvd.image .

I used Apple's Disk Utility to burn the image to a DVD-R, popped it in my DVD player, and was happily watching the IRE version of one of my favourite films of all time for the next 87 minutes.

Now that I know how, I can duplicate a few DVD's like the scans for the new baby, and a couple of DVD transfers of old family movies Theresa's family has. And hopefully it may help someone reading this blog to know to use mkisofs, and not hdiutil, esp since there are a lot of Google hits out there that tell people how to use hdiutil without any indication that the discs created with it can usually only be played on a computer, and not a real DVD player.
  • Current Music
    Organic - Philip Glass

Google Spreadsheet not quite ready to take over the world yet

So I had used my sophisticated data capture toolset (ahem, tcpflow + vim) to grab all the PS2 compatible games from http://faq.eu.playstation.com/bc/ so I could make a spreadsheet out of them, since the web interface on the official Playstation site sucks really hard.

That was easy. 10 or 15 minutes of clicking next, plus a few simple macros in Vim gave me the CSV file I wanted.

Then I thought "perhaps this might be useful to someone else out there" and thought I should upload the data. And what better way to upload a spreadsheet than to use Google Spreadsheets?

Well it appears that Google Spreadsheets is great for toy data; but throw a three column, two-thousand line dataset at it and you're out of luck.

Firefox has been stuck at "97% done" (done what, no idea) at 100% CPU utilisation on my new iMac for the last hour.

Oh well, live and learn. I guess I'll go low tech and upload it as a text file somewhere instead...
  • Current Music
    Slave to the Wage - Placebo

I knew it was bad, but I didn't know it was this bad

So I like to watch the NBA - in fact that's the main reason I subscribe to Sky; for my twice weekly fix of NBA matches.

I've been getting slowly more dissatisfied with what I'm getting though...

A few years ago I used to get either 2 or 3 games a week - usually one mid-week game, and then, if I was lucky, a double header Friday or Saturday night match. I didn't get a double header every week, but often enough.

These days they are still playing the double headers, but we now only get one of the matches on Sky. As the broadcast is part of the feed from the US, they tell you about the double header, and preview the exciting second match. That I won't be watching here in NZ.

The other thing they tell you, is that the matches are available in High Def. But again, that's for people living in other countries. Not for me. Not in New Zealand. Not on Sky.

(Sigh - the projector I bought four years ago does High def. 720p and 1080i, but I've never had anything High-def to feed into it.)

And, frankly, the NBA "standard def" picture we get here isn't even that. It's noticeably worse than, say, TV1 via Sky.

I can understand why - the signal is originally NTSC, which is only 480 lines, as opposed to PAL which is 576 lines (20% more). And NTSC's signaling means that the picture isn't even as good as a lower resolution PAL would be anyway. And then it's compressed and uploaded to a satellite, and downloaded by Sky TV, transcoded to PAL, re-compressed and uploaded to another satellite, and downloaded to my Sky decoder. The signal is digital, but there's an analogue step at my end to transfer it to my HDD recorder, and, I'm guessing, there are probably analog steps all along the way.

The quality of the picture at the end of this is pretty dire.

But let's quantify how bad the quality is. I ended up forgetting to record the NBA all-star match due to one thing and another, so I decided to download it from the internet via bit torrent. The torrent I downloaded was only 360 lines, but had originally been recorded off a 720p signal in Hong Kong, and then down-sampled and h.264 encoded.

As a comparison I grabbed some frames from a match this week via Sky.

First up, Sky TV:

Sky TV Quality

Second, a Torrent downloaded from the internet:

Bit Torrent Quality

The second picture is the 360 line h.264 file, while the first is the PAL 576 line picture, but scaled to make everything the same size (so the players are the same height).

How is it that a file downloaded from the internet is better quality than the digital Sky picture I'm paying for? Look at the players with the ball in each. LeBron James in the Bit Torrent, and, well, I can't tell you who in the Sky TV picture. I can't even make out his number. And compare the backboards in both. And, ummm, everything else. Absolutely unbelievable.

Sky says they are planning on moving to High Def. Sometime in 2008. And I'm sure they'll want to charge me several hundreds of dollars for a new decoder at that point as well.

Honestly, if I didn't believe that I have some sort of moral obligation to actually pay for things, I'd just cancel my Sky account and download everything from the internet. I'm pretty sure that's what everyone else does...
  • Current Music
    Hothouse Flowers - I Can See Clearly Now

Great Idea

I had a great idea the other day for the name of a PR firm.


Cool and cultish at the same time. Emphasises the customer is paramount. Ironic.

The only drawback would be the Scientologists might ring up and complain about you using a name too close to theirs.

The defense to that is, of course, that you can use similar, or even identical, names, as long as you are in different industries. Hence Apple Music and Apple Computers (well, until the iTunes store anyway).

So you would just say "Yes, but you are a bunch of dishonest charlatans trying to steal other peoples money, while we're in PR."


Ah. OK. Forget I said anything then.
  • Current Music
    Fighter - Christina Aguilera

XML Language

So I ended up forgetting to record the NBA all-star match last week.

I was keen to see it, as it's usually an entertaining couple of hours, so naturally I started downloading a torrent of it. Only after I'd downloaded it, I found that an h.264 encoded
640x360 stream (originally ripped from a HD 720p broadcast) was in fact to complex for my poor old 876MHz Powerbook to play.

I mentioned this ("my computer is too slow to play these files") to my wife, and she said "well you've been saying you need a new hard drive". We had a friend around with her laptop, and I wondered if it was fast enough to play the files, so I asked her how fast her computer was. She said she'd upgraded it from 256M to 512M of memory.

Now I realise that non-computer literate people don't really understand the parts that make a computer go. That fine. I simply mentally say to myself "Oh. OK. They don't have an understanding about that."

But you know what, I get the same feeling whenever I read someone describing XML as a "language". Occasionally, in the right context, like someone explicitly talking about markup languages, it's OK. But mostly it's people talking in the context of programming, and who don't quite get the concept of "data".

At least it's not like when I read the phrase "RESTful Architecture", where I can immediately close the page I am reading, secure in the knowledge that I will be missing nothing of any possible value by not reading further.
  • Current Music
    Volvo Driving Soccer Mom - Everclear